How Renault’s new hybrid cars were inspired by Lego

Renault Clio

Renault has revealed how the development of its hybrid powertrains was inspired by Lego.

The French firm introduced plug-in hybrid technology to the Clio, Captur and Megane last year, after its powertrain boss trialled the design using Lego.

Nicolas Fremau, Renault’s hybrid architecture expert – yes, that’s his actual job title, according to LinkedIn – said the need for an electric motor to be the main component in the powertrain presented a challenge. He needed to work out which transmission should be used between the electric motor and petrol engine.

He eventually opted to use a clutchless system with gearbox synchronisers, utilising dog clutch technology normally found in motorsport. After watching his son play with Lego Technic sprockets, he bought the required parts and spent a Christmas break building a model of the transmission.

Lego hybrid system

“I had the idea of doing this first to help me understand what to do. After about 20 hours of ‘work’ under the slightly surprised eye of my son, the model was born,” he said. 

Fremau had to assemble the different axes and transmission rings, then glue them and drill them to fit into a cradle. He also needed to motorise the whole system, in order to let him live-test the different modes of operation between the engines.

‘If we can make it in Lego, it will work’

When Fremau presented his model to colleagues – project manager Gérard Detourbet and director of research, Rémi Bastien – they “walked around the model, they touched it and they felt we had a real object”.

Fremau said he will always remember a remark from Detourbet: “If we can make it in Lego, it will work”.


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